I want to tell you a story, it's pretty long, but I am going to condense it as much as possible. There was a church that had been vibrant for many, many years, with wonderful servants of the Lord, a strong Sunday School, well attended Sunday service, amazing music and too many programs and groups to mention. Over time, its members started to age and very few younger families were joining. Now those remaining were still strong in faith, but their numbers were dwindling for various reasons, most notably age. As that happened, attendance dropped, programs and activities decreased, or even ceased to exist and it was as if they were just holding on, hoping something would change, but really not doing much to bring about that change. Sounds like hundreds, if not thousands of churches around the country, including many which have closed their doors for good. It sounds a little like our church as well.
With that being said, we decided that we weren't going to let that happen. We were going to do whatever was necessary to reverse that trend and bring life and growth back into GUMC. And it is from the people of GUMC that I obtained the ideas for my top 12 list in my previous "Are We Excited" post. What I have witnessed in less than a year has been nothing short of miraculous, has God's hands and spirit written all over it and has truly been a reflection of Jesus (see #9 on the list).
We have decided that we aren't going to just hang on, but we are going to do whatever is necessary to bring younger families back, leave behind a church that our kids and grand kids can enjoy, as we all did and reach out to those outside of our circle, with getting outside the circle probably the most important. Think about a circle, in fact, think about our GUMC circle. We are great at ministering to each other, loving each other and serving each other. However, if we only take care of, serve and minister to those in our circle, all we do is go around and around until that circle gets smaller and smaller and eventually fades away. It was a great circle, but over time, without growth, it disappeared. Take that same circle and open up one end. It doesn't have to be a large opening at first, but just enough to let others see some of the wonderful things we have inside. Remember my saying, it's better to start small than not at all. As that happens, the circle starts to get full, so we have to open it up a little more and a little more and before you know it, that opening just keeps getting larger and larger. It never closes again, but just keeps bringing more and more into the fold. That is what we are becoming, the church that loves all, welcomes all and serves all and in doing so, our interlocking arms will continue to get wider and wider, surrounding more and more of those who are looking for something and all we had to do was open up that circle a little bit.
Next, I want to relay just a few of the things I have witnessed amongst all of you over the past year that influenced this post.
#2, get involved, no matter what our age. The days of saying I served my time, now I'm going to sit back and cruise, are long gone. Maybe that's OK with life after retirement, but I know it's not OK with our faith. Maybe in eternity we can relax, but while we're here on earth, use what we've been given in time and in gifts to serve and help others. Example- I believe the out front people for K'motion are all over 50, one is retired and none will have any kids or grand kids in that program and the same can be said for the many volunteers in that program, as well as our community wide VBS this summer.
#4 Stepping out of our comfort zones. I think it's pretty clear to all of us, if we stand pat, stay in our nice little cozy GUMC atmosphere and don't start doing some things differently (you notice, I didn't say all things differently), there won't be a GUMC in 10-20 years, or what remains will be a shell of itself.
Examples- to name a few, we're changing up our traditional service time, we're adding the modern service, adult Sunday School has changed and we have to make some alterations to the sanctuary in order for it to be more conducive to the second service. Those are some giant steps!!
#11 Make disciples. Meeting at church on Sundays, in Sunday School and some of our long time groups isn't enough. Many things we do now, we have to do better, while other areas will require alterations or complete changes. Examples- see #4 above, Bible 101, Foundations, W3, Wednesday morning group, friend day, bible study, participating in the community prayer walk, the Spark concerts, participating in the Girard Parade and all the summer bible readers in the Asbury class.
#10 Don't be negative and most definitely, don't be judgmental, even when it's something we may not particularly like or agree with. All of us aren't going to agree on everything. Example- we are all making sacrifices, and there are some things we may not agree with or care for, but if it's for the betterment of His Kingdom first and our church second, we still are giving it our blessing.
#3 Share. This is one I think we're getting much better at and I have witnessed personally and publicly as well. Examples- I have heard more bible based conversations than I ever remember in groups, in personal conversations I've had with others and at various meetings, people are speaking out more openly about their faith, people are realizing that there is way more to being a Christian than just attending church and aren't afraid to make visible changes and people are willing to express themselves regarding our church's new direction and endeavor.
#7 Use our gifts. Read Matt 25:14-30, the parable of the talents. God gives us all gifts, but we must use them or risk losing them and they are to be used not for our benefit, but for the furthering of His kingdom and to serve others. Examples- look no further than our church band Revive, talk about using your gifts, then there's our new choir director, who didn't abandon our traditional numbers, but isn't afraid to add a modern flair at times and the new leaders in the church, who have stepped up to head groups or meetings, or offer their visible support.
And finally #12, His Kingdom first. Read everything above!!
If you were able to hang in there and read this entire post, I think the answer to the title of this post is a resounding YES!!! I'm sure you can easily add many other things to this list, as I could, but it was already long enough. So with summer upon us, I encourage you to keep the momentum going, keep reading, keep praying, stay involved in the church, or get more involved and keep serving and sharing so that when we go to our two services in the fall, we'll hit the ground running.